Knowledge Mobilization (KMb): Multiple Contributions & Multi-Production Of New Knowledge

Problems Of Taking Research To Policy

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

The goal of knowledge mobilization is to take research to policy and make research useful to society. Ideally researchers want to inform government policy – however government policy can also inform or ignore research. In the world of politicians where lobbyists sometimes make backroom deals, the idea of transparency is often put forward to the public as a key value for politicians – yet regrettably is sometimes not the case.

The following are the three biggest problems and main obstacles to overcome to take research to policy and achieve policy results from research:

1)       The divisive government system itself.  Here in Canada, due to the very nature of a partisan political system, a mindset exists that already inhibits any politician’s desire to make their opponents’ research interests their own. Instead of working together we hear more about politicians wanting to win for the party rather than win for the public. When promises are already made by politicians who already have a set political agenda about the research that is actually selected for policy – it’s difficult to listen to other politicized views let alone research being done for public benefit.  Perhaps instead of seeing politicians as opposition parties we can begin to push politicians to become more consensus decision making parties as the parliamentarian and democratic systems of politics were originally meant and valued to be.

2)      Time constraints. Another factor that inhibits effective knowledge mobilization is the time limitations of political terms and the drawn-out process of peer-review for research. The current system of turning research into action for social benefit takes time which is compounded by the fact that politicians only pick a few issues during office. Relevant and timely research can often become missed opportunities or worse – become abandoned altogether when new politicians are elected without any regard for long-term social benefit of the research instead of the politics of the research. Knowledge mobilization supports more open access in the research process – both politically and academically. Yet, it appears that politicians and academics still have a long way to go.

3)      The electorate. A final obstacle is the voters themselves – who may not necessarily be interested in the same research to policy agenda that the politicians are – or they have become so disillusioned by the political process that they become complacent and opt out of taking any action as they no longer feel or recognize that they have a voice to be heard. Knowledge mobilization is about using that voice to be heard – not just by voting, but also by being given other opportunities to be heard. The government process overly focuses on divisive votes instead of consensus-making values and is one of the main barriers to knowledge mobilization in achieving research to policy. A solution is to get conversations between politicians and the electorate in a “safe place” that isn’t politicized – which includes public consultations within communities.  Voters need to feel like their voices are being heard to seek change to benefit everyone in society everyday – not just on Election Day based on a political agenda or affiliation of one particular political party. The bottom line is if you can’t mobilize voters you can’t effectively mobilize knowledge.

Breaking down barriers is at the heart of knowledge mobilization and social innovation. The partisan nature of limiting research to policy needs to be momentarily put aside for the more significant issues that affect the general public (like health, education, poverty and the environment) to become a priority. It’s important to have regular public consultations in the political process while acknowledging the current political barriers and divisiveness that exists.

Although it may seem a rather gloomy prospect for any researcher to get their findings into policy based on such political and social barriers, researchers are encouraged to continue with the process of research through knowledge mobilization with the hope that some of that research might make it over the hurdles of the political obstacles that continue to exist.


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